Friday Tips for Artists: Your Copyright, and Who Owns It


As some artists know, but as many unfortunately do not, by law, you own copyright on every work of art you produce, regardless of whether you register the copyright, regardless even of whether you sign the piece.

Because copyright belongs to you, I advise that you never allow a client, especially a corporate one, to reproduce one of your works without a written agreement signed by you. Especially, do not allow a corporation to produce greeting cards, brochures, posters, or any other form of merchandise, without a signed agreement addressing all the necessary issues: quanitity, royalty,quality, proper recognition of the artist on the product, etc. It doesn’t matter if the party in question is giving these items away, or selling them, the image belongs to you. For that reason, only you should determine how the image will be used–including on websites–unless you’ve signed away the copyright.

If you haven’t signed it away, and if a client reproduces a work of art without your permission, they are in violation of copyright law. That law was passed long ago by Congress to protect all you artists; please utilize it. We do in my gallery, hence copyright law is addressed in every contract I write, and in every certificate of authenticity that we print out when selling a work of art. This educates my clients on various aspects of that law, and how to stay within it.

Do I always charge a fee for copyright useage? No. If I have an emerging artist who a corporate client�has collected, and whose work that client wants to utilize on their website or some printed material, I’ll often waive the fee in exchange for significant promotion through that corporation. This pleases them, and usually helps us to pick up a few more collectors. However, once that same artist matures in his/her career, I normally charge the fee.

I mean, could you ever picture a corporation giving away something they created for nothing? Of course not. Why then should they expect this of artists? I can’t give you an answer, but I can tell you that they often do. Don’t let them get away with it. To do so is to perpetuate an already flagrant abuse of our rights, our dignity, and our worth to society. It is the responsibility of each of you, apart from creating your work, to also inspire appropriate respect for it. In some fashion, I do this with my clients every day. I trust that you, and your dealers, will do the same.

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